Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Trip to the Confederate Memorial Hall

I went on a field trip yesterday, 10 October, with fellow members of Captain James W. Bryan Camp 1390, SCV, and friends, to Confederate Memorial Hall and Museum and the National World War II in New Orleans. These two museums are studies in contrast. The Confederate Museum is very traditional, in fact the oldest museum in Louisiana, and the World War II museum is very modern. While different, they both are world-class museums that do an outstanding job of telling the story of the respective wars they interpret.

The Confederate Museum was built in 1891 specifically to be a museum and meeting hall for the city's Confederate veterans. Most of the exhibits on display were donated by the veterans themselves, family members or collectors. The building itself is a historical artifact. It is of magnificent romanesque style architecture with a widow's peak tower detail. It is rightfully on the National Register of Historic Places and is without a doubt one of the most historic buildings in New Orleans. Inside are showcases, paneling and other historical and architectural details that are gems of style and tradition. There is stunning stained glass window of Father Abram J. Ryan, "Poet-Priest of the Confederacy."

The exhibits on display make up one of the world's greatest collections of Confederate military memorabilia. They have the uniforms of generals P.G.T. Beauregard, Franklin Gardner, Daniel W. Adams, and Albert G. Blanchard. There are over 100 original Confederate battleflags and a number of restore flags are on display. There are many family artifacts from the President Jefferson Davis family, including a crown of thorns woven for Davis during his captitivity, by Pope Pius IX. There are numerous, rare, ambrotypes of tintypes of Confederates soldiers, rifles, pistols and swords. There are many paintings and sculptures of famous Confederate generals, some by world renown artists. Besides the uniforms of on display of Confederate generals, there are also many that were worn by ordinary Confederate soldiers. The scope, content and quality of the artifacts are simply breath-taking.

Just across the street and around the corner is the National World War II Museum, which was first open June 6, 2000, as the National D-Day Museum. It is now rapidly expanding on 4 November will open a new building that will have a 4-D theatre, four star restaurant and additional exhibits. On the ground floor, the museum has on display World War II vehicles and a reconstruction of a World War II Higgins boat, the boat that Eisenhower said won World War II for the Allies and which was manufactured in New Orelans. There are also a half-track, Sherman tank, an American Jeep and a German staff car. Hanging from the ceiling are German, American and United States aircraft from World War II.

The visitor follows a path that takes him through exhibits on the beginning and causes of the war, the D-Day landings in Normandy, France and other campaigns in Europe and the Pacific. Exhibits include uniforms of all the main armies engaged, weapons, personal artifacts such as letters, watchess, etc., and of the technogical advances that helped win the war, such as the code-breaking machines. One of the most impressive displays was an actual Medal of Honor that was posthumously awarded to a sailor in the war.

What makes the museum so modern is the vast collection of audio-visual displays, including many documentary newsreels, personal reminiscences of veterans, and electronic map displays. Also there are huge blow-ups of famous photographs from various theaters of the war. These work well for a museum about World War II, which was the first major war in history that could be filmed, complete with sounds and the spoken word by participants near the time the events happened.

Louisiana has a lot of history and these two museums puts the state in the world-class category of importance.

No comments: